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Managing a client who can't schedule anything
Thread poster: BabelOn-line

BabelOn-line
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:35
English to French
+ ...
Aug 6, 2013

Hello All,

We are a small agency located in London. We work a lot with media companies – newsletters, brochures, etc.

Our selling point is simple: we use the same good, tried and tested translators for each project without charging a fortune.

Benefits of this system are obvious: good quality, consistency and a loyal team "who knows the drill". However, there is a major drawback: we can't simply pass the incoming translations to whoever happens to be available that day.

In the last years, I have started noticing that, with some clients, project schedules are merely wishful thinking.

- Start dates for projects fall backwards so often that it is borderline a surprise when we receive the source on the planned day

- When the files are sent to us, often a week later than planned, it looks like the delivery date cannot be changed. So your 10 days become 3 days.

- We have masses of small amends sent as a matter of emergency. These emergencies are often artificial as you find out later that the project only went on line / print a month later.

How do you manage this aspect? What typically drives me nuts is the "oh, we have another 20 words we need in 5 languages. When could you provide them"?

It looks to me that media agencies no longer manage to impose a cut-off date to their clients and they produce copy literally at the last minute. They need another headline? They ask the translation last second. Another 1000 words for tomorrow? No problem, translators will turn it around.

The way I see it, there are only two solutions:

1/ sending the last-second amends to an indiscriminate pool of translators – that's bad
2/ telling the client you are going to send the translation to their assigned translator, but that they'll get their final 20 words when they get them – that's worse.

How do you deal with this?

Thanks


 

Radian Yazynin  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Imagine you are at a Car Service Centre Aug 6, 2013

You are receiving your car after the maintenance and decide to ask for more: "Oh, there are just 4 plugs to replace, when could you manage to get it done?" You will obviously be told about the schedule and possible time, right? There's a queue! And nobody argues.
You, too, can't be everywhere at once.
For such cases, I usually send a quote with all scheduling details and an obligatory statement "The Quote is valid for ... days". So when a negligent client sends you the materials after it is expired, and you are not obliged to accept it, everything has to reverted to the negotiation point again.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Aug 6, 2013

Is it possible that you're not charging enough for amends? If they're expensive enough, it will act as a deterrent and clients will only come to you with the absolute final copy. Amends can actually be a valuable source of income rather than a nuisance.

And I'm not suggesting that you do this, but I have a very close relationship with an agency that sounds rather like yours, doing several jobs a week for them. They pay so generously that they get absolute priority, and I find I can usually fit my other customers around them.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Aug 6, 2013

In fact I've just noticed that it says on your profile "We do not impose extravagant minimum charges". Maybe you should doicon_smile.gif

 

BabelOn-line
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:35
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Phil and Radian Aug 6, 2013

What you both write makes absolute sense. Problem is, this all started years ago. The main "problem client" is one who was literally my first client ever 14 years ago.

I have historically based my rates on "continuous texts of a few thousand words" (be it broken down in smaller chunks.

So projects slowly drifted to from ten of thousands of words with one last minute amend right at the end to several last second amends in 5 languages can i get them this afternoon".

Basically, I did not manage client's expectations well.

Good thing is, with have hit the buffers today as client themselves got lost in the various layers of amendments they asked for, so i called for a rethink.

Is it in your view a good idea to impose a flat rate and flat minimum turnaround time? E.g. all amends of less than 150 words will cost GBP40 and take 2 days? Too punishing? Not enough?


 

Steven Segaert
Estonia
Local time: 12:35
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Selling proposition? Aug 6, 2013

I think charging extra only serves to have the client re-think what they are doing.

But if your "unique selling proposition" is that you vet your translators and only work with those everyone is happy with, then maybe you should apply that to your clients too and try to help them understand what they need to deliver as an input in order to get a decent output. You could offer to sit down with your client, look at their workflow, and pinpoint a moment where it makes sense for them to send you the translation.

There is a reason why they get lost in changes and versions, and as a professional, you might be able to help them find out what is going wrong and sort it out.

One of my direct clients started sending me source materials of lesser quality, which of course led to a lot of changes and corrections - and some annoying conversations. I discussed it with them, and it prompted them to clarify their workflow and invest in proofing and finalising the source materials first.

They now have a better view on what is happening, have less hassle getting a translation done, and save money while knowing what they are paying for. I make a bit less money, but I now get materials from them that are sufficiently finalised to be efficient. And I got rid of the tension that comes with having to deal with that stuff (which frees me up for other things). I'm happy, they are happy.

I doubt that charging more would have helped them sort out their issues.


 

Radian Yazynin  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Can't give you a reference point Aug 6, 2013

or recommend something definitely. You do know how to attain equilibrium between how much you value your client and the point at which they start abusing your efforts. Anyway the min. charge is always a good solution, 1 or 2 days for that should also be feasible.

 

Radian Yazynin  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:35
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Absolutely agree Aug 6, 2013

Steven Segaert wrote:
You could offer to sit down with your client, look at their workflow, and pinpoint a moment where it makes sense for them to send you the translation.

I was in the same situation some time ago. A reasonable measure.


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:35
Member (2008)
French to English
Client education Aug 6, 2013

Speaking from the point of view of a translator, not an agency, I don't charge more for panic jobs, I can either do them or I can't. After a few turndowns, clients get the idea. Just last week I had a situation where a client whose project (a lawsuit) I have been heavily involved came in with a multi-page document that absolutely had to be done within 30 minutes, it was in court and had to be presented. I said I was very sorry but I simply couldn't do it. I don't know what happened in that case but in my experience clients have to be educated and it usually comes from experience. Most often the deadline is not as bad as it seems - even a court case could be adjourned while waiting for a translation. I might add that I don't think I've ever "lost" a client from being unable to meet their deadline - on the other hand I think it has gained their respect. They know that when I say I can meet their deadline they can count on it.

[Edited at 2013-08-06 20:27 GMT]


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:35
English to Polish
+ ...
... Aug 6, 2013

Hi, Babel.

Here's how I see it:

1. Regarding the late deliveries of sources: Don't even make limited validity offers as much as simply offer to translate X units in Y days. 'So if you can deliver the source and confirm the job tomorrow, we'll be able to complete it by the end of next week,' rather than agreeing on both the deadline and the source delivery date as concrete dates. They will complain, but this will teach them.
2. You also need to make them aware of the detrimental effect of rush on quality.
3. Don't feel bad about using your translators as a crutch. Tell your client that translators traditionally deserve additional fees for rush jobs. Thell your client you can't afford to shortchange your translators – who are actually freelancers, independent subcontractors, not even employees – or it will have a negative effect on morale and on your business.
4. Regarding the last-minute changes: price them accordingly. Charge even small fees, but make the end price differ.

You may need to explain that rush fees are not penalties, they reflect the additional mental and perhaps even physical strain put on the translator, the administrative complications and perhaps a couple things more, such as overtime or lost evenings.

You may also need to explain that your core business precept is that limited and hand-picked translator pool of yours. When the client denies you access to that, you can't offer the same quality. (Which is not only a threat that your client won't get the level of service he desires, but also something that puts you in an uncomfortable position you don't want to be in.)

You've also mentioned another important matter: the rush deadlines that turn out not to have been so urgent after all. If you have a spoiled client who doesn't respect your time, especially if that client talks to you like: 'must have it by tomorrow morning, can't wait more than a couple of hours,' coupled with: 'can't pay more than, maximum we can pay is,' etc., then it's obvious somebody's playing hardball and abusing you. They deserve no holding back on your part for that. Charge them for the full extent of what they require.

To avoid losing the client you'll probably want to avoid 'you feedback' and rather focus on objective values and equivalent prices of the tasks generated. You can use phrases such as: 'can't afford to avoid charging our clients for X,' 'we have made exceptions previously, but they are not sustainable in the long run.'

Prepare for a small flurry of very negative, adversary-style feedback with taunts, guilt trips and borderline mockery and threats, but it should settle in a while if you don't budge. There's no need to be rude or anything like that, you just need to end the honey moon. Adopt a more professional, business-limited style, no personal talk, no involving you in longer conversations, no entreaties. A couple of, 'sorry, but that's impossible,' and they'll learn that some things won't fly (any more). They just need to realise that you're serious. Until then, they'll push your limits and act like sweet little babies when you catch them with full mouths of biscuits from the jar.icon_wink.gif

And if you feel bad about being so strict with such a nice client, then you shouldn't. The client is already forcing his way on you, and that's far from nice.

[Edited at 2013-08-06 21:21 GMT]


 

BabelOn-line
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:35
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
All good input Aug 6, 2013

Educating the client about quality: I have tried time and again, taking time to go and meet my client, armed with PowerPoint presentations and very clear case studies... but no joy.

For this specific client , I am afraid there is no point. Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but this is today's latest example - hard to believe but true:

We work on a bimonthly newsletter, in English + three languages. Most of the source is written in directly into English, but some contents are occasionally translated from Spanish into English (by the end-client themselves) before being handed to us.

In this occasion, we worked from the English source into our 3 usual languages (including, of course, Spanish), not knowing the text was initially drafted in Spanish. After carrying out an umpteenth amendment, clients emails us in a panic.

"The text in Spanish that you amended is not looking like the original".


Eeehhh?

Took me a bit to get it: client could not see why a text that was translated from Spanish ->into English -> back into Spanish had “changed”. What foxed me is, you'd think someone would have told us not to translate this source into Spanish in such a case.

You see my point. May be it is the UK, may be it is the media industry, but talking about quality to most clients is a lost cause. You work your magic as an agency, they don't have any clients complaints, so can't see any reason the magic will never end. Little does anyone care this is very much like driving at 110 mph with slick tyres. You can do it for a while, but usually not for very long before things go wrong.

There is also the enormous pressure from the end client on these media agencies. And also the fact that, 10 years ago, I used to deal with former hacks with some understanding of journalism. I now talk to people for whom the words are mere "content", something to use (sparingly) around pictures.

So punishing terms or rates for "small urgent bits" are a last resort – trying to tell them we work very hard in their best interest simply doesn't cut it.

I told the client today - who was also stressed out - that I would not do this kind of stunt again as it is far too resource-intensive for what we charge and it is an accident waiting to happen.

Sorry I vent it on you guys.

All your suggestions are good. Clearly, the balance of our commercial relationship needs to be addressed.

Thanks to you all.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:35
English to Polish
+ ...
Don't worry, and you aren't punishing them Aug 6, 2013

Don't worry about the venting, at least as far as I am concerned. I always try to be there when someone needs to. This is a very ungrateful industry.

Now, you wouldn't be punishing those guys with rush fees and update fees. Updates are normal work that needs to be charged on its own merits, while rush fees are a time-honoured surcharge that you perhaps haven't been applying so far.

You wouldn't be punishing them. You'd only stop saving them from themselves. Even parents need to, and you certainly aren't their mum but a fellow business operator who needs to pay the bills.


 

Steven Segaert
Estonia
Local time: 12:35
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Why does the one bad client always dominate what we do? Aug 7, 2013

"but talking about quality to most clients is a lost cause"

I don't think that is true.

I just think that we all need to stop paying so much attention to the 10% of clients who give us nearly all of the hassle, and instead should use that time to help out and pamper the clients who occasionally have an issue, but who are otherwise ok.

If your client gives you too many headaches, it shouldn't be necessary to keep that client on no matter what. If it is, then you would be on very thin ice as a business.

"Clearly, the balance of our commercial relationship needs to be addressed."

Isn't it a good idea anyway to rank your clients once in a while just to know what it would take to replace the lowest in the ranking?


 

Terry Richards
France
Local time: 11:35
French to English
+ ...
It's quite simple... Aug 7, 2013

In a previous life, I had a sound and lighting company. As well as repairing our own equipment, we would take in a small number of repairs for good customers. Above the repairs bench, I had the following sign for customer education purposes:

Pick any two:

- Good
- Fast
- Cheap


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Can't think of a solution, really Aug 7, 2013

BabelOn-line wrote:
It looks to me that media agencies no longer manage to impose a cut-off date to their clients and they produce copy literally at the last minute.


This is a trend in the media and publishing industry. For media, I'm inclined to place the blame on modern copy-editing software, which allows for tighter integration with short schedules and which facilitates last-minute changes, but which was never designed for multilingual environments.

When I worked in the advertising department of a daily newspaper, we learnt one day that the deadlines for the submission of advertising copy were being removed completely, to allow the sales reps the opportunity to sell more advertising space. In the end, this lead to a slight increase in advertising sales but it lead to a large number of regular clients (who used to work perfectly with the original system of strict deadlines) to change their copy submission schedules to "last minute", simply because they were now allowed to do so.

They need another headline? They ask the translation last second. Another 1000 words for tomorrow? No problem, translators will turn it around.


I think that your ability to translate that headline quickly and last-minute is what makes your agency valuable to your clients.

A 1000 words is not a headline, however, and clients should realise that although short amendments can be "squeezed in", longer alternations must be "booked", and therefore may not be ready by the next day.

- Start dates for projects fall backwards so often that it is borderline a surprise when we receive the source on the planned day


Unfortunately, you have to compensate the translators for having cleared their schedule on that day, so the client has to pay a "penalty" of the equivalent of 1 day's translation work if they miss the copy's send-off date with less than two days' notice. This may seem excessive, but it is not, because the translators have deliberately turned down other job offers in order to be available on that particular day, and if there is no work on that day, then they will literally lose a day's income.

- When the files are sent to us, often a week later than planned, it looks like the delivery date cannot be changed. So your 10 days become 3 days.


Would you be willing to implement an emergency plan whereby the client can ask you to send the translation to a random translator off the internet, and sign a short agreement saying that they absolve you of all quality concerns relating to the translation and that they take full responsibility and liability for any translation errors made by the untested, unknown translator? Well, I don't think you should do that... because it can ruin your reputation, and word-of-mouth doesn't take into account what was written in the contract.

In general, you should simply tell the client that what he's asking for is impossible (i.e. stick to your guns). Ideally, you should have access to not only your contact person with the client, but also to the person responsible for drawing up the schedule. It is important that the client knows in advance: "This translation will take 10 days to complete. In an emergency, it can be completed 20% sooner, but then it will cost 50% more. Regardless of the emergency, and regardless of offers of extra payment, the translation cannot be completed more than 20% sooner."

- We have masses of small amends sent as a matter of emergency. These emergencies are often artificial as you find out later that the project only went on line / print a month later.


If you do find that a client abuses the privilege of sending you tiny amendments with short deadlines, then you should not be afraid to treat that client differently.

How do you manage this aspect? What typically drives me nuts is the "oh, we have another 20 words we need in 5 languages. When could you provide them"?


You could insist on dividing the project into rounds of translation, in which the copy for each round must be sent to you as a single chunk of work (i.e. all at the same time), and in which no amendments can be accepted until the start of the next round of translation.

However, I can see that such a thing may be difficult to enforce on a client whose management style is "tight ship" with everything happening at once, instead of separate steps. I can't really think of a solution for those types of clients.

==

Other posters here recommended charging rush rates or extra fees, but my opinion is that a rush rate is simply a license to sin. Do not implement a rush rate in an attempt to prevent rush situations. If you charge a rush rate, you're essentially saying "we are actually capable of doing this at this speed".

Charge "penalties" only to cover your costs, and not to punish, and never as an attempt to reform. The person mismanaging the project's time isn't necessarily the person who pulls the purse strings, and the cost of translation may not a sufficiently large part of the expense to make the accountant baulk.


 
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